Services safe despite cuts

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CHILDREN’S services for thousands of families are set to remain in place – despite a £1.7million cut in funding.

Sunderland City Council has opted to strip 12 of its 17 Children’s Centres of their official status to cope with Government funding reductions.

The move means the centres – used by about 12,000 people a month – will stay open, but will not have to face costs involved in coping with full Ofsted inspections and meeting criteria such as a full reception counter service.

It comes as Children’s Centres around the country are closing or set to close as a result of funding cuts.

Sunderland’s five areas will each keep one designated Children’s Centre, with the others serving as satellite centres to the main hub.

Councillor Pat Smith, responsible for Children’s Services, presented the proposals at a meeting of Sunderland’s ruling cabinet.

Cabinet colleague Councillor Celia Gofton said: “This is a really great report when you look at what’s happening nationally with Children’s Centres.”

Sunderland City Council’s five area committees will decide which centres will remain operating as fully-designated.

Council officers are now putting together the criteria the committees will use to make the decision, which they say will take into account what will best serve the needs of families.

The Children’s Centres report came after a consultation with families and others in the community on officers’ proposals.

Sandra Mitchell, head of early intervention and locality services in the council’s Children’s Services department, said the changes would help save money by reducing administration and management costs and supporting Ofsted inspection arrangements.

She said all 17 centres would still be subject to inspections as services run by the undesignated centres would still come under the auspices of the five Children’s Centres – but without the bureaucracy involved in handling a full inspection for each.

The council has 56 sites delivering services to children, including community centres and libraries.

Ms Mitchell said activities would continue as normal at the Children’s Centre buildings, even those which were undesignated, but they may change depending on demand – which would happen regardless of the proposals.

She said community groups would also be encouraged to use the buildings for their meetings and activities.

The council is also keen to get the community involved in the running of the centres, which officers say is getting back to the roots of the scheme.

Coun Smith said: “The second recommendation received very strong public support with 86 per cent of respondents (in the consultation) agreeing that there should be increasing community involvement in children’s centres.

“Work will begin to establish Area Community Boards from April 2012.”

She added that a third recommendation in the report will focus commissioning of Children’s Centres services on outcomes for young children and their families, with some services targeted towards those families most in need of support.

The cabinet will receive further briefings on the programme of activities in Children’s Centres from April 2012, and the developing picture for Area Community Boards.

Twitter: @PressBench

By ROSS ROBERTSON

Council reporter

ross.robertson@northeast-press.co.uk